Iraq and Kuwait, on the eastern frontier of the Arab world, represent one face of the region’s future. Sudan, on the southern frontier, represents another. Unlike the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Sabahs, the Khartoum junta led by Omar al-Bashir has experienced neither constraint nor favor from the “new world” moral custodians in the White House. The depredations of this regime are homegrown.
The articles and interviews that follow address dimensions of Sudan’s crisis which have gone largely unattended by other media. The implications of the crisis there extend beyond that unfortunate country’s border, reflecting conditions and trends that afflict societies elsewhere. Civil war, environmental degradation and famine have wracked a number of African countries. Islamist political movements elsewhere in the Arab world look to the experience of Sudan’s National Islamic Front, though the specifics of the Sudanese case also suggest that conditions which allowed the NIF to accrue economic weight and institutional hegemony are not present to the same degree in other countries.
We are pleased that this issue provides a forum for a number of Sudanese authors to describe and document some key aspects of the situation in their country. What we present is not a comprehensive portrait of Sudan under the Bashir regime. Some consideration of how women in the south and the north have fared, and their present and potential role in the opposition forces, is one missing ingredient. Neither do the discussions here shed light on regime opposition in the western region of the country, a conflict that resembles but has been largely eclipsed by the war in the south. Finally, there remains to be written a critical assessment of the programs and practices of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, which now controls much of the southern countryside.
Sudan is not the only case in the Middle East of a regime essentially at war with its own people. But, perhaps even more so than Iraq in the Arab east, Khartoum has practiced a virulent and murderous racism toward very large portions of its subjects who resist its encompassing and totalizing ideological project of defining the “nation” as Islamic or Arab. Sudan provides a gruesome reminder that the racist exclusivism which many Arabs so readily discern in Israeli practices toward Palestinians, for instance, can be embodied in certain Arab nationalist projects as well.
Other outcomes are possible. The still-new experience of neighboring Ethiopia since the overthrow of the Mengistu regime may be a model for a more benign national project that builds in and accommodates diversity rather than imposing an illusory identity. The experience in Sudan, like that in Iraq and Kuwait, testifies to the need to look beyond the legacy of Western-derived nation states in constructing a humane and survivable future, and beyond an international economic order that marginalizes and impoverishes vast numbers of the world’s peoples.